Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chicken of the Sea Saves the Day

Dark pantry corner
What's this behind the canned peas?
It tastes like chicken!

Sleep schedules aren't the only adjustments to make when clocks abruptly move life ahead one hour. I have trouble springing the dinner routine forward. All of a sudden, it's 6 pm and I need to cook something. I could have sworn it was only 4 o’clock. Time to get creative -- or at least industrious -- and I can only hope there is food to work with.

Finding myself in this predicament last night, I realized I hadn't been out to pick up supplies. Fortunately, my husband could drop by the store and get chicken and a few vegetables for a stir-fry. Unfortunately, he forgot the chicken.

All turned out well; I made a tuna stir-fry of sorts. My emergency can of 365 Everyday Value Chunk Light Tongol Tuna Packed in Spring Water was there in the back of the cabinet. I'd purchased it from Whole Foods after reading that this tuna ranked highest in a canned tuna taste test on (Check it out here.) It's touted as firm and flaky, not mushy, moist but not watery.

So I put it to my own test. Albeit, I didn't have much of a choice. But as it turned out, a stash of tuna is great to keep around for mealtimes that show up sooner than I expect.

Tuna Nicoise Plate For Two
1 cup cut fresh green beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 (6-ounce) can chunk light tuna packed in water, drained
1/2 lemon
3/4 cup baby arugula leaves
8 to 12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 hard-cooked egg, grated or finely chopped (optional)

Cook beans in boiling, salted water until just barely tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse until cold water; drain well and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onion, and beans; sauté until hot and onion is just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add tuna; cook just until hot, turning carefully to keep the chunks of tuna intact. Remove from heat; squeeze lemon juice over mixture, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and toss gently with arugula and olives. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle egg over mixture, if using.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Magic of Lemon Stilton

Hidden treasure lies
Deep in the back of the fridge.
You just have to look.

A couple of nights ago, I suggested that my friend and partner-in-blogging, Debby, and I get together for a glass of wine. I suggested that we do it at her house, since she was temporarily sans children. Then I suggested that we drink her wine, since I was all out.

I almost suggested that she cook me dinner, too, but I knew not to push my luck.

Having arranged all of this, I began to feel a wee bit guilty about not contributing anything to our little gathering. I also knew I had nothing in the fridge to share, in light of days and days of snow and winter holiday break that kept me from stocking the shelves. But I desperately dug through the refrigerator wreckage anyway, only to discover — Ah Ha! Treasure!

The treasure was half a wedge of stilton cheese with lemon rind, or lemon stilton. It's delightfully refreshing and light-tasting because of the lemon, yet satisfying because it's - you know - cheese!
As an added bonus, it keeps in the fridge for a long time. (Because Debby reads this blog, too, I can't say how long it had been hiding back there. Let's just say it wasn't opened yesterday...)

I coupled the cheese with an unopened box of water crackers I found in the pantry (leftover from a party at Debby's house) and I was good to go!

I've also found it to be delicious with sliced pears — either red bartlett for a sweeter taste and some color, or with bosc, for a crisper finish.

For those of you who simply MUST have things in recipe format, here you go:

Sliced Pears with Lemon Stilton
One red bartlett or bosc pear
One small wedge of lemon stilton
water crackers (optional)

Slice the pear and the cheese. Top pear slice with cheese slice. Place on cracker if desired. Eat, smile, repeat.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cleanup Frenzy is Productive

Got to tidy up
Too much cabinet clutter
Making me crazy.

Must clean out the fridge.
Gravy is taking up space -
Or can it be soup?

I am a happy woman if the house is neat and tidy to all appearances. "Find it a home!"I tell my third-grade daughter when she brings in another precious object. My desk is orderly. In the kitchen and bathroom, residence is conditional: if we use it daily, it can stay on the counter. If not, underneath it goes. Messes, stacks, and stashes are stored within the confines of spaces behind doors; i.e., cabinets, closets, and the basement.

Out of sight, out of mind. Otherwise, the clutter drives me insane.

I don't think about what I can't see, including cans and jars of food that are hidden in the back recesses of cabinets and the pantry -- until I unpack groceries and I have to make them fit. Sometimes I stuff them in. But other times, I have the patience to get rid of the old and make way for the new.

So in a recent fit of impatient (read: furious) weeding out after a grocery run, when I didn't have the time to do it, I was in a mood to throw out everything that didn't appeal to me at the moment. I hesitated over a jar of gravy. How in the world did it get there? More than likely, I acquired it with my recent marriage and subsequent household merger. As I considered its source, benevolence overtook me. An "aha" moment told me how to use its convenience properties to advantage.

The gravy turned out to be perfectly delicious in this casserole. When I added sautéed mushrooms and vermouth, it had all the richness of a veloute sauce (homemade broth thickened with a blond roux). I may hoard a few more jars on purpose now.

Quick Cassoulet

6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into thirds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
About 1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh baby bella mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1 (12-ounce) jar chicken gravy
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can navy beans, drained
1 or 2 tablespoons dry vermouth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt and pepper; dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat; add 2 tablespoons oil to skillet and heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken; cook until browned and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a 1 1/2-quart baking dish, and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet. Add mushrooms, garlic, and rosemary; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in gravy, broth, beans, and vermouth; pour over chicken. Combine Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs; sprinkle evenly on top.

Bake until topping is golden brown and casserole is bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Back to our Roots

Vegetables mashed
It's smart to eat when you're stressed
Comfort food is best.

I believe we are supposed to eat vegetables in season. Just because we can get fresh asparagus in December doesn't mean we ought to be eating it. Our past generations ate off the land, thriving on the nutrition in what was easily accessible from the ground. People did not have a vast array of out-of-season foods at their fingertips. The taste and nutrients of freshly harvested vegetables have always been unsurpassed by those shipped over land and sea, perhaps even preserved in some manner.

When I'm out grocery shopping, I breeze by displays of corn and sugar snap peas that could not grow right now in my area; I glare at hothouse tomatoes like uninvited house guests, no matter how perfect they look on the outside. I did all those this past summer, when I couldn't get enough of blossoming summer squash, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, speckled beans, and others that basked in the sun on stalks and vines. (Don't get me wrong: I am a proponent of the colorful plate and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. I just don't want to get ours from another country.)

Appropriately, my current food obsession is creamy mashed roots. When the weather outside is frightful and cold, it is coincidentally the time when underground root vegetables are ready to dig up out of their hibernation. And because this season is a little harried and dinner is the last thing on my mind as I rush around from work, holiday activities, shopping -- and just generally trying to keep life on track, I am grateful for this desire for simple, close-to-home-grown comfort food.

So I'll simmer or roast, then mash potatoes with celeriac or parsnips or sweet potatoes with rutabagas. We'll eat roots in soups and stews until the first stalks of asparagus push up through the dirt. By then, my mood will have changed and I'll be ready for green and other vibrant colors of spring vegetables and fruits. Until that happens, for the most part, the muted shades of winter roots, supplemented with winter greens and frozen and canned vegetables, will sustain us well.

Mashed Celeriac and Potatoes
3 cups diced peeled celeriac (1/2-inch dice)
12 ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Cook celeriac in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add potato and boil until both are very tender, about 15 minutes more. Drain. Return to saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir until vegetables are very dry. Mash until mostly smooth. Stir in milk, cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Roughy-ing It

To show my deep love,
I make a wholesome dinner.
"Yuck, Mom. What is that?"

I love fish, but like many people, I find it intimidating to cook sometimes. This is compounded by the fact that my two kids rarely are enthusiastic about the results.

But my recent desire to branch out beyond my old stand-by salmon recipes, combined with that leftover bunch of celery in my fridge, helped me screw up my courage and try something new. And this time, I purposefully didn't make enough for the kids. Good thing, too, because this experiment turned out quite well, and my husband and I didn't want to share! The kids had fish sticks from a box - and everyone was happy.

Poached Orange Roughy
This simple dish requires a skillet that can move into a hot oven, but that just makes you look like a fancier cook!
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, sliced lengthwise
1 1/2 cups celery, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 inch lengths)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 lb. fresh orange roughy filet or other firm white fish

Melt butter and oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.

Add carrots and celery, and saute until vegetables soften slightly and begin to caramelize. Add wine and stir briefly to de-glaze.

Lay fish over vegetable and wine mixture. Allow it to steam on the stovetop for 1-2 minutes, then transfer skillet into the oven. Bake until fish flakes easily with a fork, 10-20 minutes. (Time depends on type of fish and thickness of filet, so check every 10 minutes or so.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The joy of new discoveries

Why is "stinky" cheese
Considered a gourmet food
When it smells like socks?

Last weekend, I discovered something new. Something I would never have tried based on the sound of it, but something that was truly yummy.

It was lemon stilton cheese.

"Stinky" cheese with candied lemon rind? Are you kidding me? But it was light and slightly tangy and infinitely refreshing. And, it inspired this simple and also refreshing salad, which turned out to be a nice rebound after Thanksgiving's carb-fest!

Green Salad with Pears and Lemon Stilton
1 small head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 ripe Bosc or other pear, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons crumbled lemon stilton cheese

Creamy Orange Vinegarette Dressing
1/4 cup light mayonaise
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice

Arrange lettuce on 4 plates, top with pear slices and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cheese. Whisk dressing ingredients together, drizzle over salad and serve!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Best Thanksgiving Recipes You'll Never Get

Secret recipe
Guarded for generations
But blabbed on the Web

Ah, Thanksgiving, the carbo-holiday!!

Debby and I did a team effort this year. As we planned our menu and divvied up the work, we realized that we both have "non-negotiable" side dishes that must make their annual command appearance.

Hers include sweet potatoes and stuffing. Mine are butternut squash souffle and sour cream green beans.
Fortunately for us, these dishes have stood the test of time and become family favorites.

Sadly for you, dear readers, I can't share mine, under penalty of death and disownment from my own mother. See, we come from a place and time before the Internet age, before television - heck, maybe even before radio, when recipes were almost a form of identity.

Think you've got a cool Twitter handle? Check out my top-secret rhubarb pie. The word spread and the reputation grew in the same manner it does now, only much more slowly, so you could savor every bite. My mother honors this tradition religiously. Holding these recipes close is perhaps a way of holding the memory of the women who shared them close as well.

But that leaves me in an Internet age with an eager (I hope) audience that is hungry for both posts and recipes. So here's another recipe that I've made the past few years and like a LOT. And because I've forgotten where it came from, I'd say the likelihood of blowing anyone's secret tradition is pretty slim.

Cranberry Chutney
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 chopped apple (I like Granny Smith for this)
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 cup orange juice
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Cook cranberries, sugar and water over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until sugar is completely dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 35 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and chill. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.